More narcotics are coming into California jails

Sheriffs across California say they have seen an increase in drug smuggling in their jails since the 2011 passage of a law that sends lower-level felons to county lock-ups to serve their time instead of state prison.

So-called “flash incarcerations” are one of the ways deputies say the drugs are coming in.


Under state Assembly Bill 109, felons defined as non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent offenders serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prisons. Inmates already in prison when the law passed finished their sentence there but are monitored upon release by county probation officers — not parole agents — and are sent to county jail if they violate parole. A provision of the law, the so-called “flash incarceration,” allows local probation officers to send the parolee to the county jail for 10 days without a judge’s order or a court hearing. The provision was intended to give probation officers a tool to keep offenders straight without sending them back to overcrowded state prisons.


Prior to AB109, all felons served their time in prison and were monitored by state parole agents upon their release. If they violated their parole, they would return to prison for up to a year in custody. The returning parolees contributed significantly to an overcrowding problem so severe that the state was ordered to reduce the population by a federal judicial panel.


Sheriff’s officials say former inmates are using the “flash incarcerations” as a way to bring drugs into the county jails. The parolee can hide drugs inside their bodies, commit a minor infraction to get arrested or self-surrender on a violation to get arrested and then recover the drugs once inside. In many cases, they will only serve 10 days — or sometimes less if the jail is crowded — before getting out again. Deputies believe the offenders are often ordered to bring in drugs in by gang leaders.

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